Saturday, July 17, 2010

French Broad Road Race - calling all climbers!

This weekend is the French Broad Cycling Classic held up in Marshall, NC. They actually have three races - last night's Cane Creek time trial, today's Liberty Bicycles road race and tomorrow's City of Asheville Criterium.

While some of my Greenville Spinners Racing Teammates are going for the omnium, I participated only in today's Road Race. This is a very hilly 40 mile route

Several of my teammates ride in the Cat 4 group. In chatting with them briefly after the race, it seems they felt pretty good overall, but each was challenged on the most significant climb of the day. The best result was a 15th place for Peter with Brian, Kirk and Randy coming in 33rd, 37th and 41st respectively.

I'm still riding cat 5, and this makes my 6th race. A few more and I won't have a choice but to cat up to 4. No problem, having fun is what it's all about anyway. Today Allen joined me in the Cat 5 group. He made a difference for me in the beginning. I really felt like he was watching over me because of my shifting problems. Probably my imagination, but hey, I was glad he was there. Allen pulled a 16th on the day so a great result for him.

The ride actually starts off flat for about a half mile. Wouldn't you know it, as we turn on Marshall's main street, I shifted up into my big ring and the chain popped off the pedal side. Bummer, I pulled to the side (but kept rolling) to get it sorted out and had a super nice guy ride up next to me and push me for a moment. I said thanks to him, but that I had it. He continued and I got the chain back in place.

The route turned up pretty quickly for some big rollers - I would almost say these were bordering on actual hills based on the length of these things. I did my best to stay with the lead pack and found the pace to be hard, but manageable.

Shifting was a big problem for me today. Obviously, I damaged the big ring in last week's crash. Every time I shifted from the small ring to the big ring (near the top of the climbs of course), I had to be super careful. I found if I shifted while in the biggest cogs, it wasn't too bad, but if I was in any of the 4 or 5 smaller cogs, the chain wanted to go over to the pedal side of the chainring. A number of times I had to use my foot to insure the chain stayed on the ring. Things worked out ok, but it took energy that I needed for the climbs.

Around mile 13 or so, the road turns up for the first part of the biggest climb of the day. It's really two climbs with a descent in between. The first climb is not too bad - the grade is manageable and the pace was not crazy. I managed to stay mostly with the lead pack. Occasionally, a gap would open (as normal) through turns between the riders at the lead and the riders further back. I tried not to let this happen, but I was staying away from the very front - probably in the top 20 riders or so. That far back, the accordion effect is pretty pronounced. Burned some energy pulling back up to the pack when that happened.

As we finished the descent from that first part of the main climb, we entered into a relatively flat and very straight section of roadway. Wouldn't you know it, a crash occurred about 10 bikes in front of me and I had to take evasive action.

Thankfully, I heard after the race that no-one was hurt, but I watched one guy go over his handlebars when he hit the guy in front of him. Unfortunately, a very strong rider I know and who I have ridden with several times got caught up in the crash and it took him out. Not because of injuries to his person, but to his bike. Bummer as he was riding really strong today.

For me, my evasive action put me into the grass. I kept the bike upright and got it stopped in time, but that was the problem, I couldn't go around the crash due to the terrain - I had to stop. Meanwhile, the lead riders who were in front of the crash kept going.

I quickly dismounted and brought my bike back around the other side of the riders who were now untangling their bikes and bodies. I re-mounted and took chase. I caught up to a 2nd group that was chasing the lead group. One guy commented to me "I guess they're not going to wait up". "Nope", I said, "they're going to make us work for it".

Then, the gradient increased and we were into the largest climb of the day. Not the steepest, but certainly the longest. It was about 5 miles long and as I rode up the early part of the ride, I managed to gap that 2nd group I briefly rode with, but the lead group was gapping me. I did not push hard enough to reel the leaders in.

I did manage to collect and gap a number of riders on my way up, but one rider who I have ridden with in the past caught my wheel as I rode past him. He and I worked together on the climb, then we collected Senior on the early part of the descent.

As we passed Senior, I called out to him "Come on Senior!", and sure enough, he grabbed our wheels. The three of us worked together as we rode through the very beautiful North Carolina countryside. It was mostly a descent, but the grade was not steep. Still, we could carry (relatively easily) 25 - 29mph in most places. Senior and Tom would pull for long distances in the beginning, but as we all began to tire, they slightly shortened the time they spent out front. This left a little more load for me, but I was feeling pretty good (and if you know me, I love to get out and pull anyway).

As we started the final 2 mile climb of the day, Senior called out his thanks and began his own pace. Tom and I tried to keep a solid pace up the hill. It was funny, because as with other riders I have known, he was commenting on his physical condition. I actually told him he can't look at it that way - it is self-defeating to talk about how tired or sore or how badly your legs want to cramp.

In fact, my legs were getting pretty tired by that point as well. I kept it to myself and as the grade was not getting any easier, I kept up my pace. Tom did a great job of staying with me, and in fact several times he pulled slightly ahead. But I knew based on the way he was talking that I would be pulling a gap on him later in the climb.

Sure enough, with a little over a half mile to go, the gap started widening. We thanked each other for the work as we rode along the river, and I started to slowly pull away.

There was no other Cat 5 riders close to me, but I continued to pass the stragglers from the womens / masters / cat 4 group that started in front of us. I crossed the line by myself thinking maybe I got lucky enough to make top 15, but surely I got top 20.

When I pulled up the results, I was quite pleased to find that I actually crossed the line 10th for the 50 rider Cat 5 field. That makes me feel pretty damn good!

Reviewing the race after the fact: I felt good and did well up until the crash. I was riding with the lead pack and even with the shifting problems, I felt like I could hang with them. When the crash occurred at the base of the most significant climb the lead group gapped me.

The question I ask myself - would I have been better off to bridge up to that lead group? I had been keeping with them for the entire ride to that point, but once the gap formed, I went into my climbing mode - not necessarily my race mode mind you. I went into my little zone where it is me, my bike and the road. I could see those guys for a while, but it got a little confusing as we were catching up on the tail end riders from previous groups who set out before us.

Had I bridged up to the lead pack, I may have pushed myself a little harder on the climb which could have resulted in a better finish.

However, they obviously were good climbers as they were pulling a gap on me as I climbed. It is also possible that I could have blown myself out on that first climb and had nothing left for the relatively flat descent along the river. I suppose I'll just have to keep working on my climbing and try again next year. Until then, I'll have to accept the 10th place.


  1. Great job on the race, JD! Sounds like it was a good time despite the few hurdles.

  2. Thanks Jess! It was fun for sure. Hope you and Kari had a great ride sat morning!



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